Monday, September 02, 2019

Decision fatigue makes a huge difference to judges' rulings

Interesting. The assumption is that judges are impartial and efficient judgement machines, not swayed or influenced by any other factors than the rule of law. But, of course, it can't really be like that. Judges are people too, and what they had for breakfast really does influence their decisions. Or more accurately how long ago breakfast was.
It's no longer news, but a 2011 study of judicial rulings in parole decisions shows that they are typically much more lenient at the start of the day (65% positive decisions). As the morning progresses, they become more and more negative until, just before lunch, they are rejecting almost all appeals. Then, after lunch, the positive decisions spike right back up to 65% again, before gradually winding down again to almost zero.
It's a spectacular example of what has become known as "decision fatigue", in which the quality of decisions deteriorates after a long session of decion-making. It applies to judges making bad decisions later on in the day, consumers making poor purchase choices late in the day, and poor impulse control and self-regulation in health and personal matters.
The moral of the story is: judges should not be just sitting there making decision after decision all day long. That, or if you have to face a judge, try to make sure it is just after breakfast or lunch.

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